Archive for March 6th, 2007

Simple Answers To Simple Questions

Headline on my Hotmail fluff/news screen:

Can you learn how to be charming?

No.

1 comment March 6th, 2007 at 11:47pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Great Headlines

Legolution


(h/t Spocko for the video)

I do love NYTuesdays:

A tip of the paper-cone hat, then, to biological novelty. Under its tutelage, early groups of cells made the leap from the sleepy expulsion of oxygen as waste to the aerobic consumption of oxygen to grow at a hastier pace; and groups of single cells learned to pool their talents into multicellular collectives of specialized body compartments that could then go out and hunt other multicellular collectives; and fishy fins became amphibious feet and crept onto the beach, and some land-weary feet changed their mind and flippered back to the sea, while still other limb bones lengthened and found skin flaps for flying, and, hey, this airborne business is pretty handy, let’s rearticulate the forelimbs of three separate lineages and take wing as a pterodactyl, a bird, a bat.

As scientists see it, these and others of nature’s fancy feats forward are clearly the result of large-scale evolutionary forces, but the precise mechanisms behind any given innovation remain piquantly opaque. For some researchers, the conventional gradualist narrative, in which organisms evolve over time through the steady accretion of many mincing genetic mutations, feels unsatisfying when it comes to understanding true biological novelty.

“The standard Darwinian view always sounds like a better theory for making improvements than for making inventions,” said Dr. Marc W. Kirschner, a professor of systems biology at Harvard Medical School. If incremental, additive genetic changes were responsible for all the boggling biodiversity we see around us, he said, how can it be that humans have hardly more genes than a microscopic nematode, and that many of those genes are nearly identical in roundworms and humans besides?

In their recently published book, “The Plausibility of Life,” Dr. Kirschner and Dr. John C. Gerhart of the University of California, Berkeley, offer a fresh look at the origins of novelty. They argue that many of the basic components and systems of the body possess the quality of what they call “evolvability” — that is, the components can be altered without wreaking havoc on the parts and systems that connect to them, and can even produce a reasonably functional organ or body part in their modified configuration. For example, if a genetic mutation ends up lengthening a limb bone, said Dr. Kirschner, the other parts that attach to and interact with that bone needn’t also be genetically altered in order to yield a perfectly serviceable limb. The nerves, muscles, blood vessels, ligaments and skin are all inherently plastic and adaptable enough to stretch and accommodate the longer bone during embryogenesis and thus, as a team, develop into a notably, even globally, transformed limb with just a single mutation at its base. And if, with that lengthened leg, the lucky recipient gets a jump on its competitors, well, g’day to you, baby kangaroo.

Dr. Kirschner also observes that cells and bodies are extremely modular, and parts can be moved around with ease. A relatively simple molecular switch that in one setting allows a cell to respond to sugar can, in a different context, help guide the maturation of a nerve cell. In each case, the activation of the switch initiates a tumbling cascade of complex events with a very distinctive outcome, yet the switch itself is just your basic on-off protein device. By all appearances, evolution has flipped and shuffled and retrofitted and duct-taped together a comparatively small set of starter parts to build a dazzling variety of botanic and bestial bodies.

The combined modularity and bounciness of body parts suggest that life is spring-loaded for change, for outrageous commixtures, the wildest fusion cuisine. And who knows whether our organismic suppleness, our deep evolvability, isn’t related to our mental thirst for the new, and our hope that behind the door lies the best surprise yet?

I thought this was pretty damn cool. It explains the outlandish leaps of evolution, as well as how the world comes to have so many freakish creatures inhabiting it.

March 6th, 2007 at 08:38pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Coolness,Science

More Wind

I have another ridiculously long how-do-we-save-America post up at FDL.

March 6th, 2007 at 06:37pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Elections

Media Nightmare Wrap-Up

Since my epic FDL media post last Tuesday generated such a great discussion, I thought I would make an attempt to recap some of the highlights of the recommendations here, as a public service for those of you who might not have time to read the whole thing. Where possible, I will attempt to group them into the same categories outlined in the main post.

Reinstate restrictions on media ownership:

  • Must include some sort of provision for ownership diversity, or else media will just be owned by slightly smaller clones of their current parent corporations. (Cujo359)
  • Use license challenges and eminent domain to break up media ownership and turn it over to community control; very steep ownership restrictions. (jim p) Sounds good, but would require heavy legislative lifting.

Spoonfeeding:

  • Cultivate and team up with sympathetic journalists and media outlets, help them with analysis of their data. (portia.vz) I don’t think we need to stop at analysis. We have some pretty good data-gathering capabilities, too.

Pushback/Counterweight:

  • Boycott/threaten to boycott the traditional media and their sponsors, and promote alternatives, i.e., blogs/streaming video/YouTube. (various) While this would be ideal in theory, I’m skeptical as to whether it can be achieved in practice. People like the ease and passivity of just turning on the TV and watching, or half-paying-attention while they do other stuff. I don’t see the internet being able to equal that experience any time soon, via computer, cellphone, or any other device short of… an actual television or set-top box that can somehow tune into channels on the internet.
  • We need better, more centralized coordination of our responses to media lies. (Mommybrain) Somehow, I can’t help thinking this would steal our mojo…
  • Watchdog wiki with information about past history, affiliations, possible conflicts of interest – would make it easier to determine reporters’ credibility on any given story. (Hugh)
  • Subscriber-supported news, like HBO for news (economic viability?). (Rafael)

Word of mouth:

  • The Whispering Campaign. Print out stories that have been unreported or underreported, and leave them lying around where people will read them (coffee shops, bus stops, any kind of waiting room). (KestrelBrighteyes)

Restructuring/Other:

  • Decouple news and ratings. Report the news according to journalistic values rather than mass appeal. (Alicia) Assuming ratings are genuine driver and not excuse.
  • Tax breaks for networks/stations that offer independent news. (Alicia)
  • BBC model of government financing and non-interference. (Various) This would be great, but very difficult to enforce, as witness BushCo. efforts to pack CPB with wingnuts determined to push PBS & NPR to the right.
  • Convert media to non-profits (tax code changes?) to eliminate profitability pressures. (Sara) Assuming profitability is genuine driver and not excuse.
  • Laws to restrict/punish dishonest reporting. (Paul Wartenburg) Great in theory, but how to implement/enforce? Who decides?
  • More restrictive laws and standards for national media than for local media. (pow wow) Local media outlets are just as influential within their sphere of influence, if not more.
  • Allotment of free airtime for campaign commercials. (pow wow)

6 comments March 6th, 2007 at 06:22pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Media

TV Techno-Thought

I came up with this idea as a bullet point in a post I’m still working on, and I thought it was worth expanding it into its own post.

One of the holy grails of computers and television is the convergence between the two. There are all kinds of set-top boxes and add-ons to allow you to watch TV on your computer, or watch your computer’s digital video files on your TV. There are even set-top boxes (or will be) that can download movies from the internet.

But as far as I’m aware, no-one has taken it that extra step further and created a TV or a set-top box that can view streaming internet video. I’ve cobbled together a setup involving a spare laptop with remote access software and a TV-out jack, but it’s the kind of unsightly arrangement that only a geek could love.

But is there any reason why a set-top box with specialized software couldn’t take the place of my laptop? It could have a default portal that serves as a channel guide or directory to all the sources of internet video content out there, with an arrow-and-select interface (some kind of rudimentary keyboard would be a nice option for the remote, to allow for entering login info where needed, or specifying video sources that aren’t accessible from the portal).

There’s already a repository of short clips on my Comcast OnDemand menu, which gets me to thinking that internet video could be a pretty cool premium cable service, with the bandwidth coming directly through the co-ax cable. In other words, it wouldn’t even be necessary to have a traditional broadband or internet service to watch web video. If implemented well, this could finally provide a much-needed alternative to the traditional broadcast media (no reason this couldn’t be extended to radio, come to think of it) and their stranglehold on passively-consumed content. So on second thought, the cable companies probably won’t be interested – maybe the TiVo people?

This is still a very rough draft of an idea. I don’t know if there’s enough content or infrastructure to support this yet, and God only knows how the portal interface might be arranged. But I think it’s going to be possible some day, and all I ask is that someone give me several billion dollars for having thought of it. (Actually, the odds of me being the first person to think of this are probably roughly equal to the odds of me getting several billion dollars…)

Yes, I love technology…
But not as much as you, you see…
But I STILL love technology…
Always and forever…

1 comment March 6th, 2007 at 04:10pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Media,Technology,TV

You Can’t Convict A Ham Sandwich

So now that Scooter is officially guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice and I’ve stopped hyperventilating, some thoughts:

While Scooter’s conviction is probably not a sufficient condition for Fitz to start targeting Cheney or Rove (or even Dubya?), it is certainly a necessary one.

Dubya now has to contemplate the possibility of a pardon, and what the political implications of that might be. Especially if Scooter looks like he might cut a deal to rat out Cheney or Rove (or even Dubya?). Not that political implications have ever slowed him down.

If Libby cuts a deal to help Fitz go after Rove, it puts Rove in a very interesting position. On the one hand, he’s going to want to wrangle a pardon for Scooter to save his own ass. On the other hand, he knows that such a pardon could put the Republicans in an even deeper electoral hole in 2008. Would Rove let his own self-interest outweigh the possibility of a Democratic president and a filibuster-proof Democratic Senate majority? My bet is yes.

All the Republican spin in the world had no effect on the judge and jury. They can huff and puff all they want about how this is a witch hunt and how no-one’s been charged with the actual leak, but that argument is a lot harder to credibly sustain now that Fitz has the jury’s seal of approval. Not that they won’t try. Indeed, they’ll ramp up the fake outrage even further now that this Good And Innocent Man will be forced to suffer criminal penalties for his total non-crime.

I really didn’t think Scooter would be found guilty. Hoped, sure, but rich guys almost always walk, especially when they use the Confuse-A-Cat Defense.

March 6th, 2007 at 03:21pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Bush,Cheney,Libby/Plame,Politics,Republicans,Rove

Plamenfreude

Libby is guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty, and I am gloaty, gloaty, gloaty, gloaty.

Now let’s hope Scooter feels like making some deals, and that Fitz feels like collecting some more scalps.

The Republicans can spin all they want, but the fact remains that a high-ranking member of the administration is now officially a convicted criminal, and it’s pretty clear that it’s because he was trying to cover criminal mastermind Cheney’s ass.

*happy conviction dance*

1 comment March 6th, 2007 at 12:59pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Libby/Plame,Republicans

Yet More Oakland Photoblogging

Some more random photos from Oakland:

* WPG2 Plugin Not Validated *
Downed fence.

* WPG2 Plugin Not Validated *
Closeup of downed fence.

* WPG2 Plugin Not Validated *
Number 23, The Overpass. The Overpass.

1 comment March 6th, 2007 at 07:34am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Photoblogging,Pittsburgh


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